2015 Happy New Year


year of the sheep

The Classical Chinese system of calendar dates completes a cycle every sixty years,
which is also five runs through the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, 
the animal energies that rule the years)

This Spring I complete my fifth 12-year cycle.

Here are some of the events scheduled for this year.


January 6 – 31, 2015 


Recent Work by:
Mark Andres • Sharon Bronzan • Sally Cleveland • Arless Day
Karen Esler • Trish Grantham • Pamela Green • Jef Gunn
Chris Kelly • Jim Riswold • Sara Siestreem

Opening Reception for the Artists: 2nd Thursday, January 8 , 5–8 p.m.

June 1 - 30 2015

Dreaming of One and Two   (working show title)

Augen Gallery, Portland

Oils, encaustics, prints and photos. 
Same simple subject handled in various media and methods, 
from real-ish to profoundly simplified. 



Encaustic (intermediate)

Menucha Retreat and Conference Center 
In the Columbia Gorge
Second week of August 2015 (I think)

One full week. I've not taught at Menucha before, but they tell me it's like summer camp, with beautiful grounds, special people and great food.

Plein Air and the Dao of Seeing

Cascade Head, Oregon Coast
August 24 - 27      (Mon - Fri)
Mingle and Muse meeting with Terry Louie and me on Friday August 21 at 4:30

Terry's class on Chinese Calligraphy and Tai Chi precedes mine and would be an excellent way to ready oneself for my class, which turns to landscape painting out in the open from the place of a stilled mind. As still and open and alert as we can muster. Unpredictable paintings. Not necessarily what one might aspect from plain air painting.

Anticipated workshops, not yet scheduled

First Light Last Light 

Same class as advertised for summer of 2014 will be offered summer of this year, pending confirmation from host.

Please see the earlier bog post for more information. 

Painting the High Desert 

Four days at the Hotel Diamond in Diamond, Oregon, on the edge of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and Steens Mountain. I miss painting out there and I think it's time to go back. 

Possible months under consideration :

Painting the Methow Valley

This would be a wonderful destination 4 - 5 day painting retreat out of the 
Methow Valley Inn in Twisp, Washington. The Methow is on the east edge of the North Cascades of Washington, and looking out to the Okanagan. It is stunning. Sunny, grand and high elevation. The hotel is geared to accommodate groups like our. 

This trip is under consideration for summer or fall.

Other News

New Website coming soon. Same URL. Similar yet expanded layout.

Also under consideration is a new website that would showcase my 
labors of deign, woodworking and finish carpentry.

Fence to keep the goats, Romeo and Juliet,
out of the circular herb garden.
(client: Toni Smith)

Stay tuned.

First Light Studio

Sheep photo courtesy of google search for Jacob Sheep, which have four horns. I first saw them in Scotland in 1979 walking the roads with a senior uncle, Geordy Dickson. If you are wondering why they are thus named, reread the book of Jacob in the Old Testament.
It has to do with how he got away with all his father in law's sheep.

First Light, Last Light

First Light, Last Light 

This will be a 4-day workshop marking the opening and closing of the day. 
Difficult moments in which to catch the experience of changing conditions.

Fri. Aug. 8 – Mon. Aug. 11, 2014

The distant brought near, the complex made plain. 
The obscure made clear, the vastness intimate. 
In a rigorous routine yet relaxed air, 
meant to bring out your subtlest work.

 3 hours at dawn: 6 - 9am 


Arrive early enough to handle your gear before session begins

3 hours at dusk: 6 - 9pm 

Feel free to arrive early and stay late.

The workshop will be rigorous, quiet and lightly structured.
Following basic instructions, each painter will work on her or his own
with occasional personal guidance.

The site is a large, private property off of Skyline Drive with 50-mile views to East, North and Southwest.

(The paintings shown here are all from the southeast Oregon desert.)

Please email me with any questions.


Making Paintings in the Studio

This is the fourth of the three posts
presenting and developing my recent
slide talk Contemporary Art as Buddhist Practice

In the last post, I described the practice of painting the landscape
directly in the open air and how that can be brought into 
a practice not unlike the meditation called
Mindfulness of Phenomena (1)


 The other path is followed in the studio mostly,   
where I construct paintings from diverse materials. 

I employ chance operations,   some disciplined,   and  some free.  
Within the open exploration of form lies a memory (a dream) of
 sky,   water,   mountain,   wind,   desert,   rock,   and shore.

   I move the forms toward a new order that, with luck,  becomes 
something simple,  
a new wholeness, though ringing with complex relations. 

This is true whether or not the initial motif remains intelligible.

Meaning is found where mind,  subject   and material   come together.
The materials have no inherent meaning   and neither have any of my usual landscape subjects.  
But in my mind,   I find them meaningful,  and when present with an appearance of a  lake   or a hillside of trees,  I am often struck still and dumb  with a sense of significance.

   John Berger   is a special writer, sensitive and clear.  He described such a moment this way:
“At the moment of revelation   when appearance and meaning become identical,   the space of physics and the seer’s inner space coincide:  momentarily and exceptionally   the seer achieves an equality with the visible.  To lose all sense of exclusion;  to be at the centre.”

We tend to understand things metaphorically.    Art uses this tendency effectively. 
Buddhist teaching,   and Buddhist art  through the centuries,  have used metaphor effectively.

The specific landscape motifs all function metaphorically in Asian landscape painting,
which developed for close to 2,000 yrs in relation to Buddhist   and Daoist insight into the nature of mind   and the forces of the world around.

Repetitions in my work refer to
the returning again   and again   and again  to awareness.  Presence. 
I’ll use text, or the appearance of text,   as a reference to mantra or prayer,   
or to a spontaneous utterance.

Currently, I am working toward simplicity and restraint.
I suspect that  analogies are still  a layer between what I think and feel    and what just is.
the just-as-it-is-ness    carries presence 
So simple  ;  yet not so easy to pull off.
I’ll close with a stanza from the Aspiration Prayer for Mahamudra:

Look at objects and there is no object: one sees mind;

Look at mind and there is no mind: it is empty of nature;

Look at both of these and dualistic clinging subsides on its own.

May I know sheer clarity, the way mind is.

Thank You


(1) The fourth in the four Foundations of Mindfulness, the others being
Mindfulness of Body, Mindfulness of Feelings and Mindfulness of Mind.

This is the third of three posts 
presenting and developing my recent slide talk
Contemporary Art as Buddhist Practice

This section is about my own work. Since the narrative 
describes two methods, I'll divide the presentation of my work into two posts. So that makes a total of four posts.


In my work,  I am playing with the world of appearances 
 – out there in boundless space –
and within the protected world,   also boundless, 
of my imagination. 

In practice, I follow two basic  paths – and many variations -
to this coming together of   appearance and significance.
In one, I paint landscape from observation in oils on panel.  That moment between the clear and simple appearance of something, the sensation on the eye,  and the perception of it as a thing, with a name,   can be opened out.   

There’s a gap there that can be widened,  
and this by the way was Claude Monet’s trick.  
This is expressly what he was doing. (1)

Painting according to Monet’s method  is like the insight practice of   Mindfulness of Phenomena,  pure experience of form without naming things. (2)

After a while of this,  everything is seen
as transparent  and interdependent ;

I am awake in a dream.   
And through a regular practice of this  
I might begin to see thatas the song goes, 

life is but a dream.

Does it always go like this? No, not always.

(1) The Impressionists were furthering the project of the Realists, led by Gustave Courbet and the painters of the Barbizon School. Real subjects like everyday people in everyday situations were important to these painters. Landscape was important. Whatever was natural, just as it is, was important. Equally important was representing them with a sense of  reality and immediacy.

Furthermore, in the 1850s, scientific studies had found this gap between the sensation of light on the retina and the appearance in the mind of the image, and then between that mental image and the significance or naming of that image. Monet and other painters were interested in that gap as a moment of bare reality.

Monet once advised another painter:  "Do not paint a house, or a bridge or a tree. Paint only a square of blue, a smudge of yellow, an oblong of pink."

(2) As a practice of spiritual insight, the look of the painting matters not a whit. Working the painting into a work of art is another matter that develops in parallel to that of "seeing through the veil" of appearances. Making a work of art depends on knowledge and skill in manipulating materials and colors. It is possible to do both.

A Midcentury Painter

This is the second of three posts
presenting and developing my recent slide talk
Contemporary Art as Buddhist Practice.

Here, I'll discuss a single work - a series really - by a painter 
well known from the 1930s into the 1960s.

I'm going to ask you to use your imagination, 
which is more effective in a live setting since I can withhold the image. 

I’ve been showing some slides from early Buddhist painting,   
done by monks and artists familiar with the Buddha Way,
And a few Paintings by Modern artists who shared that motivation. 
I will now introduce to you one Midcentury work in particular.
Though many other modern paintings would be worth the trouble,  this is something wonderful.

Close your eyes and imagine please, a square canvas.
 It’s almost as wide as your outstretched arms,  higher than your head,   down to about your knees.
The canvas is all black.   The painter was well acquainted with the Buddhadharma.
He wrote out 12 rules:

No texture
No brushwork or calligraphy
No sketching or drawing
No forms
No design
No colors
No light
No space
No time
No size or scale
No movement
No object, no subject, no matter. No symbols, images or signs. Neither pleasure nor paint.

As you gaze into this black field,      devoid of mark or space or time,   you begin to distinguish some “resonance” in the blackness. 
It’s not just black.   Maybe there is a design,  a division,   though you’re not quite sure you saw it.

Now open your eyes.

10 minutes in front of one of Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings can change your life.
He painted them,   by hand and brush,   for the last many years of his life.
Always the same,   always new,  he referred to them as  
The Last Painting. 
  Reinhardt wrote in 1962:

“The standard of art is oneness and fineness,   rightness and purity,  abstractness and evanescence.

The one thing to say about art is its breathlessness,  spacelessness and timelessness.  
  This is always the end in art.”

For a moment, imagine yourself making a painting like this.
What would shift in yourself   as you mix these colors so black,   yet not black,
and apply them according to his 12 rules, stated as they are, in the negative?

What would you have to  relinquish?


Now, I said above that ten minutes in front of one of Ad Reinhardt's paintings
could change your life.
I don't know if that can happen in front of a computer screen. I have written elsewhere about the confusion about art that comes in a time like ours when all information, standing in for experience, takes place in reproduction. This has been a topic since the 40s at least, but now with electronic communications so ubiquitous, we tend to forget that works of art are there to be contemplated
in person, in real life.

The next time you are in a museum that has an Ad Reinhardt Black Painting
do not miss the opportunity to spend 10 - 60 minutes in quiet contemplation.

People pass them by. Lao Tsu said the Tao that is not laughed at is not the true Tao.


Baas, Jacqueline. 2005. Smile of the Buddha: Eastern Philosophy and Western          Art from Monet to Today. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of          California Press.

Baas, Jacqueline and Mary Jane Jacob. 2004. Buddha Mind in Contemporary          Art. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

Rose, Barbara Stella. 1975. Art as Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt.
         Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

The second book on this list was not a specific reference for this post, but is here included because of its important relation to the first book by the same author. Jacqueline Baas and Mary Jane Jacob "co-organized...a program...entitled Awake: Art, Buddhism, and the Dimensions of Consciousness. From April 2001 to February 2003 this consortium effort brought together arts professionals, artists, and others to investigate the relationship between the meditative, creative, and perceiving mind; and the implications of Buddhist perspectives for artistic and museum practices in the United States. It led to more than fifty exhibitions, performances, and public programs from 2002 to 2004." (from the publisher's page)

It's a fascinating and inspiring book. It offers a new take on Marcel Duchamp and describes the ongoing work of contemporary artists working today. There are no painters mentioned.

In The Smile of the Buddha, Ms. Baas has essays on Monet, van Gogh, Gauguin, Redon, Kandinsky, Brancusi, Duchamp, O'Keefe, Noguchi, Reinhardt, Yves Klein, Jasper Johns, John Cage, Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Agnes Martin, Robert Irwin, Vija Celmins, and Richard Tuttle.

Barbara Rose edited Reinhardt's enigmatic and slyly profound writings. 

Art and Mind

Arhat: Kanakabharadvaja  18th century    Tibet

In the next three posts, I will present the content of my talk at the
annual gathering of the
Northwest Dharma Association.
The evening of talks was entitled "The Arts as Buddhist Practice"

Only a teacup of the ocean of Buddhist art is here represented.

Liang kai  : Buddha descending the mountain

I am going to talk about the practice of contemporary painters making contemporary art 
as  a practice of spiritual insight.
While showing slides from the long history of such practices in Asia, 
and a few Modern paintings, I’ll introduce some principles of practice. (this post)

Then I’ll discuss a single work by a midcentury painter, (next post)
and close with some of my paintings  that 
demonstrate my basic approaches to painting. (3rd post)

 Hakuin : Mu

Traditional Buddhist art forms include contemplative practice.
Painting in the West has also included contemplations of the Mystery of Being,

but has more or less lost the quality of mystery
since the Renaissance with its preoccupation with surfaces and illusion.

It is sometimes hard these days to know what art is, 
and much of it can be confused with Popular Culture.

Art as a spiritual practice within the Western tradition is now riskier 
because the contemplative methods and the motivations are not clear.

They are not taught in art school. 

Mu Qi : swallow on a lotus pod

The Dharma is formless – like space. Without form it cannot be shown.  
"Form is the protagonist of space."   (quote from Eduardo Chillida)
The Dharma teaches that Formless Self is our very nature.
And yet, we spend our lives as a differentiated self,   full of form ;   full of space.
Fullness and emptiness.   
Without the cloud,   we cannot see the sky.

The moment you make a mark on a piece of paper, the universe is divided.
From No-thing to Some-thing. From that division, another follows and now a process of dynamic tension is in play between Form and Space ; cloud and sky ; tree and field ; mountain and valley ; song and thrush ; reason and intuition ; thought and mind-itself. 
When you make a shape or a line, do so with the space in mind. This is the key. 

Its natural and easy, as Shitou (the 8th century Chan master), explains in his Sandokai:

“Like the front foot and back foot in walking” 

Tosa Mitsuyoshi : moonlight

Art begins just like this, with the longing to make the ineffable visible.
The creative activity of making a painting is addressed to the moment of its being looked at.
The creative activity of Buddhist practice is addressed to the moment of awakening.
And making a painting can be addressed to awakening, for artist and viewer.

Yu Chien : Clear Morning

If we work our art  convinced of a concrete intrinsic reality  
in our subject,   our materials,    and in our self,
then we  get more of the   limited mind  with which we began.

Claude Monet : Nympheas  (Water lilies)

If we practice simple mind from the outset, at least quiet mind but even better a glimmer of insight  that nothing exists as an intrinsic reality.

If we  “look at the mind that cannot be looked at,”
then,  in our activity of making something is the possibility of Awakening.
The Heart Sutra manifests in our hands, our materials, forms, and mind.

Art is mind revealing Mind.

Paul Klee : Ancient Harmony

In this way, Art practice flows out of formal meditation practice.
For an art to serve as an authentic Dharma practice, it helps if it’s grounded in
meditation, with the guidance of a qualified teacher.

Without this spacious basis,   the artist is bound to be working instead   from more distraction.

Antoni Tàpies : Ochre and Grey on Brown

Keep your formal meditation practice separate from your art practice.
Use meditation methods in your studio work,  
but perform your art as art,   and your meditation as meditation.
This important lesson was given me by   Lama Michael Conklin   and it freed up both practices.

Mu Xin : Half Thousand Li of the Ruo River

Both meditation and art can make use of ritual.
The forms of ritual have the effect of pulling our self-centeredness out of the activity.
The focus is on the forms, the technique, and the motif or subject.

  As Gustave Flaubert said :  “Reveal art; conceal the artist.”

Allow yourself to come to Zero –

When a carpenter sets a piece of wood to plumb,  he looks at the bubble on the level  
and his body, mind and the wood, in that brief moment, adjust to plumb.  
Simple and silent.

There is only plumb   -  and out of plumb.

Every carpenter does this throughout the day without fanfare. 

Begin your studio session like this.

You can also :  Bring to mind all beings  and the aspiration that your studio activity will benefit all beings. You need not be rational about this. Just bearing it in mind helps establish an altruistic motivation.

Then, enter the absorption of creative play.

You can take a moment at the end your session to dedicate the goodness of your work to the benefit of all beings. This helps to cut off clinging to your work. Success? Let it go. Failure? Let it go.

Vija Celmins : graphite drawing

This is the first of three installments. 
Next post : A Midcentury Painter

Note : What I have expressed here has formed in my mind over 40 years of painting, sitting and study. Some of the ideas may be familiar to you. In the last post (March 2, 2014) I included a bibliography, which is made up from books on my shelves. It's not at all exhaustive. I did not want to complicate the post with footnotes. Feel free to contact me about any of my comments. In this particular post, some ideas are paraphrased from writings of Ananda Coomaraswamy, John Berger, Michael Conklin, Donald Kuspit, Shin'ichi Hisamatsu, and from the artists shown.

The Arts as Buddhist Practice

The talks last night went very well.

Kim Swennes, a harpist, opera singer and thanatologist, played harp as we gathered in.

Jacqueline Mandell was MC - and she organized the event. She is a founding teacher of Samden Ling "A Sanctuary for Meditative Contemplation."

Tim Tapping, president of the Northwest Dharma Association talked about the organization, based in Seattle. The organization is unique in North America in its breadth of inclusion of all  lineages of Dharma practice.

My talk came first, and as mentioned in the last post amounted to an exposition on the role that Modern and Contemporary Artists have played and continue to play in giving form to the teachings. See below the bibliography on this subject.

Jan Waldman, a long time practitioner gave a talk on Chado, the Way of Tea. Jan was deeply trained in Japan and the US, and has taught and performed tea at Lewis and Clark College and elsewhere for decades.

Next was Prajwal Vajracharya, of Dance Mandal. Prajwal and his student gave a beautiful demonstration of Himalayan Buddhist ritual dance.

white tara by Sanje

Then came Sanje Elliott offering insight on Motivation in practice, both of Dharma practice and Art practice. Sanje is an accomplished Thangka painter and teaches thangka painting here in Portland. He demonstrated the initial drawing of a Buddha head following the traditional form built on a thigse or diagram. Kim accompanied on the harp as he drew.

Lisa Stanley is a teacher in the Shambhala tradition and a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She gave an interesting talk on Ikebana, including insights from Trungpa, who practiced in the Sogetsu school of Ikebana. This school is known as the non-conformist flower artist school. Some of their arrangements can be wild.

(My mother, Margaret Keenan (Gunn) Lacey, was a practitioner in this school. I watched her over the years become an artist. She knew every flowering bush or tree in her area. "Oh, Jeffrey! Let's go through the arboretum to see if that azalea is blooming!" She once had to be rescued by the fire department. At about 79 years old, she had climbed into an apple tree on the edge of the property. She fell and could not get up. She was over the berm from the parking lot of her condo, and no one could hear her cries over the noise of the street far below. But someone saw her from the other condos way across the street. He called the Fire Dept. and they came for her. They left flowering apple branches on her car. She later brought an apple pie down to the Station. Art requires great sacrifice and humility.)

Lastly, Kim Swennes, the harpist, talked about Thanatology, the self effacing practice of calming the dying through gentle (not vague!) music for their final transition from this life. This was a really fine talk, and pertinent for me as my dad just this week escaped the kiss of death. His time is near, but I will have a chance to see him one more time. Death is the ultimate meditation, according to the Buddha:

Of all footprints,
that of the elephant is supreme.
Of all mindfulness meditations,
that on death is supreme.
 (from Sogyal Rinpoche's The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, p. 26)

I will continue presenting out takes from my talk over the coming weeks. Here below is the bibliography for those who like to read up on these things.

 Tarawaya Sotatsu - Waves at Matsushima - 16th c

Bibliography – The Arts as Buddhist Practice

Abram, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a                     More than Human World. New York: Vintage Books, Random House.

Baas, Jacqueline. 2005. Smile of the Buddha: Eastern Philosophy and Western          Art from Monet to Today. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of          California Press.

Baas, Jacqueline and Mary Jane Jacob. 2004. Buddha Mind in Contemporary          Art. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

Berger, John. 1986. The Sense of Sight. New York: Pantheon Books.
         2001. The Shape of a Pocket. New York: Vintage Books, Random House

         2007. Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and          Resistance.          New York: Pantheon Books.

Binyon, Laurence. 1911. The Flight of the Dragon: An Essay on the theory and          Practice of Art in China and Japan. London: John Murray

         1959.Painting in the Far East: An Introduction to the History of Pictorial Art
         in Asia Especially China and Japan. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.        

Catoir, Barbara. 1991. Conversations with Antoni Tàpies. Munich: Prestel-         Verlag.

Crane, George. 2000. Bones of the Master: A Journey to Secret Mongolia.
         New York: Bantam Books

Coomaraswamy, Ananda K.1956. Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art. First          published 1937 as Why Exhibit Works of Art? New York: Dover          Publications.
         1956. The Transformation of Nature in Art. First published 1934.
         New York: Dover Publications.

Dufwa, Jacques. 1981. Winds from the East: A Study of Manet, Degas, Monet          and Whistler 1856-86. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International.

Ecke, Tseng Yu-ho. 1988. Wen Jen Hua: Chinese Literati Painting from the          Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell Hutchinson. Honolulu: Honolulu          Academy of Arts.

         Some Elements of Modern Art in Classical Chinese Painting. Honolulu:          University of Hawai’i Press.

Fischer, Felice. 2003. Mountain Dreams: Contemporary Ceramics by Yoon          Kwang-cho. Philadelhia: Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Heine, Stephen. 1997. The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of          Universal Peace. North Clarendon, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing.

Hinton, David. 2006. trans. The Selected Poems of Wang Wei. New York: New          Directions Books.

Hisamatsu, Shin’ichi. 1971. Gishin Tokiwa, trans. Zen and the Fine Arts. Tokyo: Kodansha International

Holmes, Stewart W. and Chimyo Horioka. 1973. Zen Art for Meditation.          Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co.

Klee, Paul. 1948. On Modern Art. Introduction by Herbert Read. London: Faber          and Faber.

La Plante, John D. 1992. Asian Art. 3rd Ed. Boston: McGraw Hill

Larson, Kay. 2012. Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the          Inner Life of Artists. New York: The Penguin Press.

Linroth, Rob. 2004. Paradise and Plumage: Chinese Connections in Tibetan          Arhat Painting. New York: Rubin Museum of Art.

Lipsey, Roger. 1988. An Art of Our Own: The Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art.
         Boston & Shaftsbury: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Little, Stephen. 1991. Visions of the Dharma: Japanese Buddhist Paintings and          Prints in the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Honolulu: Honolulu Academy of          Arts.

Loori, John Daido. 2005. The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating your Artistic Life.
         New York: Ballantine Books and Dharma Communications.

Maezumi, Hakuyu Taizan. Photographs by John Daido Loori. The Way of          Everyday Life: Zen Master Dogen’s Genjokoan with Commentary. Zen          Writing series; 5. 1978. Los Angeles: Center Publications.

Nakamura, Tanio. 1957. Sesshu Toyo. English text by Elise Grilli. Rutland,          Vermont: Charles          E. Tuttle Co.

Okakura, Kakuzo. 1956. The Book of Tea. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle          Co.

Pine, Red. 2000. The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain. Port Townsend: Copper          Canyon Press.

Poshyananda, Apinan. 2003. Montien Boonma: Temple of the Mind. London:          Asia Society, Asian Ink.

Rose, Barbara Stella. 1975. Art as Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt.
         Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

Sirén, Osvald. 1963. The Chinese on the Art of Painting. New York: Schocken

Sullivan, Michael. 1979. Symbols of Eternity: The Art of Landscape Painting in          China. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Suzuki, Shunryu. 1999. Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on          the Sandokai. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California          Press.

Trungpa, Chogyam. 1996. Dharma Art. Judith Lief, ed. Boston & London:          Shambhala.

Tseng Yu-ho. 1963. Some Contemporary Elements in Classical Chinese Art.          Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

van Briessen, Fritz. 1962. The Way of the Brush: Painting Techniques of China          and Japan. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co.

Watson, Burton. 1994. Selected Poems of Su Tung-p’o.  Port Townsend,          Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Yanagi, Soetsu. 1972. The Unkown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty.
         Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Stone and Light - 2001

Art as Buddhist Practice

In a couple of weeks, on March 1, the Northwest Dharma Association will present 
The Arts as Buddhist Practice
 at the First Congregational Church 
1126 SW Park Ave
 Portland, Oregon 97206

Free to the Public

I will be one of six presenters at this gathering. My subject is the possibility of contemporary artists making studio art as an art practice of spiritual insight.

Preparing this slide lecture has required me to look again into my own art making process and to hone its description to 12 minutes. Here in the blog I can present some of the outtakes.

Before we explore Modern artists who shared this motivation, we can look at a few paintings from the long history of art as meditation in the monasteries and art studios of China and Japan of past centuries.

 Hong Ren 1610 - 1663
[He] protested the fall of the Ming dynasty by becoming a monk. Hong Ren's style has been said to "[represent] the world in a dematerialized, cleansed version ... revealing his personal peace through the liberating form of geometric abstraction."[2] (James Cahill)

 Mi Yujen

Consider the possibility that thoughts and emotions are not mind, 
but only occur in the space of the mind. 

Things reveal space.

Thoughts reveal mind.

If I remember rightly, this painting illustrates a Zen parable about
trying to catch a fish with a gourd.

Where is mind?

15th century priest and tea master.
First to introduce calligraphy in the tea ceremony.

What color is mind?

 Sesshu Toyo
16th century Japanese monk

Where is the end of mind?

 Liang Kai - 13th century
Buddha descending the mountain.
He's coming out from behind a rock or a large form.
Liang Kai's drawing makes even the rock seem translucent.

My mind is in this painting as I regard it.
Liang Kai's mind is also still here.
The paper maker is here, and the ink maker, and the inventors of the internet. Ben Franklin in a lighting storm and the developers of electronics, my second grade teacher who taught me to read. Everyone is here in this painting on this computer screen.
The Buddha is in it. Were his teaching not inspiring peace and happiness across 25 centuries, this artist and many others would not have been moved to paint of it, 
nor I to "read" it.

Mu Qi
Six Persimmons
A composition repeated in many books on design and composition.
Is there an allegory here, or just 6 persimmons?
Each object is arranged lightly, painted lightly,
and just so.

Art Work in 3 Dimensions

From time to time I make sculpture.
I've never shown it and have little of it left in my possession.

Santa Clara

H 35" x W 32" x D 9"

Erat Hora

H 20" x W 37" x D 26"

Erat Hora

"Thank you, whatever comes." And then she turned
And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers
Fades when the wind hath lifted them aside,
Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.
   - Ezra Pound

the show referred to in the previous post, of 33 minutes ago, took place in
September 2011



In September of 2013, a show of my encaustic paintings opened at Augen Gallery. Each of the paintings was a view onto landscape: mountain ridges or shoreline. Some were based on personal experience of that landscape, honed out of furtive memory. Others were based on an idea of a landscape. One came about through a disinterested exploration of forms; only toward the end of the process did a vivid sense of a particular landscape memory take hold in my mind. In a later posting I will explore these processes.
They are made with encaustic medium, paper and ink collage, gold leaf.

 Aquellas Alturas             33” x 66”

 Cape Falcon            21” x 28”

 Incoming Tide             24” x 36”

 No More Struggle             50” x 50”

Ocean Side I            10-5/8” x 13”

Ocean Side II            11” x 14”

Pillar Rock                         21” x 28” 

Rain Beach                         8” x 43”

Rising and Falling            24” x 36”

Show Statement

know the silence of things,
and the radiance of things.

the light of space;

and the ringing quiet of space.

mind meets the world;

mind and hand and

materials make

color and form.

lake as it is.

rock as it is.

if you interpret
explain, you miss.

just look; be

in your body mind

eye and just be.

spaces in between

small openings
between things
not things

This is the visual experience that prompted this post.

Crow's Shadow Monothon

First Cold Light

Before the story and the images, please note: you can now subscribe to posts. You'll get an email notice with each posting. Look to the left to see the little orange icon.

It's finally warming up in the Great Northwest. Nice and soggy like it's supposed to be. The cold snap last week had you wondering! We also had a surprise cold, cold day back in October. I remember it was a sunny day here in the Portland area. It was a Saturday and after our weekly plein air class, I was to head east to the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton for the annual Monothon (monotype marathon), a benefit to support the Crow's Shadow Institute for the Arts. Their mission is "to provide educational, social and economic opportunities for Native Americans through artistic development."

Cold Last Night

I tried out my new 10 degree sleeping bag that night. It was a beautiful drive, all light moving away from the Columbia River Gorge in radiations of gold and pink and deepening blue and then black. What would Don Quijote have thought seeing hundreds of sleek, giant windmills rising behind the great walls of the Gorge, slowly turning in the gloaming?

I arrived at 10:30 PM. No lights were on so I slept in the back of the truck. The day before, the temperature had dropped to 30 degrees, the day after, it was 28. The night I slept in the truck it was 19 degrees and I froze. In the morning, frisky dear bounded through the field on their skinny legs.

Desert Utterances

Over the course of the next day, I made six monotypes that I'm proud of. They are on sale with many others by other artists to benefit the Crow's Shadow Institute. They're only asking $200 each. Each image measures 10 by 18 inches and is printed on a half sheet (15 x 22 inches) of Rives BFK paper. A similar monotype would sell from any of my galleries for well more than twice that. What I'm trying to say is that's a really good price and it benefits a great cause.
You might want to by one!


Wow, now they're offering them at 20% off! that's $160!

If you want to talk with them about that, click on: contact.
Remember, they may not know the titles I give you here, so you may have to describe them.

Out East

Summer Mountains

Mind Revealing Mind

"Reveal art; conceal the artist."
---Gustave Flaubert

What is self expression? Some painters have faith or confidence not so much in themselves or their skill, which they certainly possess and exercise, but in the process of making itself, in the mystery of light or color, in their paint, in the path.

There may be more, but for now we can name these four basic approaches to visual imagery making:
  • Painting in direct response to visual perception “out there.”
  • Painting in response to mental objects.
  • Painting responding to or corresponding to ideas, or primal intuitions.
  • Painting as painting: forms found in the activity of manipulating material, such as paint, paper, wood, wax, pigment, canvas, clay, stone or any material. Invoking and developing chance; the element of discovery and surprise.
So, where is mind? Is there any part of this that is not mind? How does meaning arise in relation to a thing observed, or a sound heard, or a touch, or a shape or color? What makes a form significant?

I want to bring in Ananda Coomaraswamy here, from his book Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art:

For all the arts, without exception, are representations of a model ; which does not mean that they are such as to tell us what the model looks like, which would be impossible seeing that the forms of traditional art are typically imitative of invisible things, which have no looks, but that they are such adequate analogies as to be able to remind us, i.e., put us in mind again, of their archetypes. Works of art are reminders; in other words, supports of contemplation.

The following works seem to be from somewhere on the dimensionless edge between outer and inner, being and becoming. In the making of them, or the coaxing them into being, what was observed and where is it? Is anything observed or observable? What, and where, is that which observes?

Jennifer Hoover: Love Letter. Watercolor on paper.

From a series of manuscript leaves illustrating the phases of evolution and dissolution of the Cosmic Form. Rajastan, c. 19th century. Ink and color on paper.

Andrea Schwartz-Feit. Part of the Mind Series. Encaustic on panel.

Gregor Jamroski. untitled, Polaroid photograph.

Mark Rothko. Mauve and Orange. 1961. Oil on canvas.

Chris Kelly. Pink Moon, Encaustic on linen on panel.

Credits: The Rajastan piece and the Rothko were borrowed from the book Yoga Art, by Ajit Mookerjee, with an contribution by Philip Rawson. Boston. New York Graphic Society, 1975

Jennifer Hoover, Gregor Jamroski, Andrea Schwartz-Feit and Chris Kelly are friends of mine. Andrea's work can be seen at Butters Gallery, Portland, Oregon. Chris' and Jennifer's work is represented by Augen Gallery, also in Portland. Click on Jennifer's name to read a review of the show Grace, which took place at the Art Gym in 2001. Andrea talks to you on YouTube on the link on Mind Series under her painting, above.

Styrofoam Hawk

The little table lifted up from under her hands and went flying right into the other painter working next to her. A dust devil had come up the slope and ploughed into the folding table where she was trying to simply mix paints to match more or less the colors she saw out there in the deep, falling space - an impossible grey green, or is it mauve? – and place it simply on her panel. And then it was all in the air.

I saw none of this. I heard the commotion but was staring over the other side to the eastward unattainable space where pale-as-death alkali deserts float in a periwinkle haze.

I watched as her Styrofoam sandwich box lifted itself into the air, following the lines I’d seen traced by Northern Harrier after Northern Harrier, up one side of the steep mountain and out over the other slope as though 9,960 feet of altitude meant nothing at all. The Styrofoam box was likewise a member of natural aviator species rising with perfect ease, flapping gently the two sides of the box, always cupped-side-up, circling and soaring above the hard world.

It’s almost impossible to paint the transparent blue distance with accuracy and feeling. “Wouldn’t it be easier from a photo?” someone suggested. Accuracy, maybe, but not truth or feeling. So, what would be real? Once, the legend goes, Pablo Picasso was riding on a train and the man sitting next to him, realizing the world’s most famous artist was within earshot, began arguing with him about realism v. abstraction. Picasso asked for an example of realism. The man pulled from his billfold a photo. “This is real! This is my wife!” After a while Picasso returned the photo, saying, “She’s rather small. And flat.”

For generations now, those of us in the industrial world are conditioned to flattened images presented on paper or billboards or screens. We are tempted to take that which is represented in these media as real or realistic. Even most of our viewing of two-dimensional and three-dimensional art is through reproduction. We are used to viewing art, not where the artwork is, but wherever we are, in magazines or books or calendars or posters or coffee mugs. Even time-based art is experienced through the filter of electronic media, radio or television. These are all filters that interfere with experience. Or better, the experience is of a reproduction, in a place other than where the original lives, not the original.

If you are a painter, here is an experiment: try painting an original painting from a photo of a favorite spot. Then, when satisfied with your effort, take the trouble to go to that spot, and paint it from observation. Load your paints into your car or bicycle or train or bus, or carry your gear on your own legs. Experience the journey, the weather, the time it takes, the boredom, the anticipation, the hunger pangs, the lunch en route, the sheer pleasure of being alive and able, the pains and inconveniences, the mosquitoes, the cold, the heat. Get there. Look. Look some more. Feel the breeze. What’s the sun going to do? What is the color in that corner of the water? What pigments would convey it? What brushstroke?

Check in on your time, your materials, your ego, your gumption.

Begin. Absorb yourself in the work of attention and perception and action. Mixing color. Placing. Scraping. Changing. The birds sing. The rain starts, then stops. Your palette becomes unworkable; these colors are not what I see out there. Maybe that won’t matter. You chase colors. You chase the shadows as they move. A breeze moves the trees and you see something in the shadow, which is now alive and spacious because it is moving. A squirrel leaps the branches. An osprey wheels the invisible gyres of space. A fish jumps and the silver rings repeat until they connect the two shores and the wind-made texture on the water scrapes over them and it’s all quite impossible to capture.

“You cannot control. Only catch,” said Tsung Tsai[1]

You paint anyway. It’s never perfect, but something of the wind and the temperature and the space in that shadow find their way into the painting on the panel. When you look at it, it feels like you were there, no matter the outcome.

Eventually the Styrofoam bird landed in the rocks and in that instant was litter. With life (wind) spreading its wings it was beautiful, white against the deep blue. Now, it was a line of dead white in a wide world of active color.

To paint the world around with élan one has to be in life. Full engagement. Like the sign says for the raffle, “Must be present to win.”

These oil paintings were done recently en plein air.

[1]Chan monk in George Crane’s wonderful book Bones of the Master.

Drawing my think

It is the natural instinct of a child to work from within outwards; "First I think, and then I draw my think." What wasted efforts we make to teach the child to stop thinking, and only to observe!
-- Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

I'd like to continue these thoughts on the way that art communicates through signs. Marks are signs. Any drawing is made by a translation from visual experience, or inner experience, and a mark made to represent it. Herbert Read writes that our Paleolithic ancestors did this as a way of signifying connections they felt between remote events. The first images, then, were made as part of ritual, a way to influence remote events through the felt connections. The hunt will go well and game will be had; rain will come and the crops will produce. In this way, the image co-arises with rite and precedes language. This was specifically the birth of written language in Shang dynasty China through oracle bone inscriptions.

We live in very different times, and we are flooded with images. With what rites have these contemporary images anything to do? Mostly shopping and terror. We are made to believe in facts. But facts have no heart beat. Facts are not truth. We are persuaded to believe promises. How are promises kept?

Here's another piece from Coomaraswamy:
...there was a time when Europe and Asia could and actually did understand each other very well. Asia has remained herself; but subsequent to the extroversion of the European consciousness and its preoccupation with surfaces, it has become more and more difficult for European minds to think in terms of unity, and therefore difficult to understand the Asiatic point of view.
This is a subtle criticism of European (and by extension American) viewpoint that we take for granted, can't even see. What does he mean by European extroversion and a preoccupation with surfaces? Railroading spatial perspective and glisteningly "real" objects? Extroversion = imperialism? David Hockney makes a similar point in his movie A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China. (See John Berger's Ways of Seeing for more on what was painted in Renaissance and Baroque Europe and what it all meant.)

Commaraswamy continues:
It is just possible that the mathematical development of modern science, and certain corresponding tendencies in modern European art [he was writing in the 1930s] on the one hand, and the penetration of Asiatic thought and art into the Western environment on the other, may represent the possibility of a renewed rapprochement. The peace and happiness of the world depend on this possibility.
Matisse and others looked back, as though across the ocean of 400 years of European art, to the art of Mediaeval times, to Persia and Mogul India, to Africa and the South Pacific, to Japan and China. To unity. Matisse speaks of this in a couple of his essays, notably his L'exactitude n'est pas la vérité.

More next time on the issues of abstraction and meaning.

Here's a couple of my pieces (both 21" x 21", mixed media on paper) that will be on view from October into November at Marylhurst University for the annual alumni show:
Summer River

This and a few other mixed media pieces came in response to a small reproduction of a watercolor in Art in America. The news brief had to do with the piece, in the collection of I-forget-which-museum, having been disproved as an O'Keefe original, as had been claimed. The monetary value was effected, but not at all its artistic or spiritual value.

Deer Park

I study calligraphy with Lei Danxin (aka: Terry Louie). We copied this poem, Deer Park, by Wang Wei (701-761) countless times. Below, a translation by Gary Snyder. Follow the link for an example of the calligraphy of Honami Kôetsu (1558-1637). He often worked with images by Tarawaya Sôtatsu (died 1643) and other artists of the Rimpa movement in Momoyama period Japan. Kôetsu’s calligraphy was my inspiration for this piece.

Empty mountains:
 no one to be seen.

Yet - hear -
 human sounds and echoes.

Returning sunlight
 enters the dark woods;

Again shining
 on the green moss

"The wonderful thing about Nature is that Nature is natural. The naturalness of Nature inspires in us our own naturalness."
--Sogyal Rinpoche

Going to the Mountains is going to another time. That's why we go. We went to the Mountains, Kirk Weller and I.

My photos were taken with a 1972 Minolta SR-T101.

From the campsite, end of day. Looking East.

First thing next morning, looking NNW.

Kirk's image, within ten minutes of mine (taken with a Nikkon DSLR). His deeper saturation of the morning light (returning light) just barely moves toward distortion, which begins to shift the meaning from "out there" to "in here."

A monotype from this summer, based on similar experience.

Just as the cinematography for a dream sequence in a movie is usually distorted to signify an interior experience, away from the light and shadow shared by the others in the story, any abstraction of an image is felt from an interior place like daydream.

Another monotype from earlier this summer.

These two paintings will be shown at Augen Gallery in portland in October 2009 as part of their exhibit of artists in the gallery who teach at Pacific Northwest College of Art, this year celebrating 100 years as an art school.

Map of Where You Go June-Sept 09

On any map, the focal points are where you are and where you want to get to.

Breakfast out for many friends and families. Most of the plates cleared, Saraah, age 7? 8?, asked me my name. She wrote my name and hers on her paper and handed it to me. "Thank you! What a nice drawing!" "It’s not a drawing, it’s a map!" she admonished. "Oh! A map of where?" Indignant now: "Of where you go!"

Instantly enlightened, I questioned no more.

Pavilion in Summer Mountains June-Aug 09

Ink play. We’ve all done that, way back to the Tang dynasty, and my hero, Sôtatsu (one of many heroes) did crazy things with it. What you make of it tells the tale. Oh, and then there are the Gothic brocades which seem to cover every centimeter of creation: the people, the floor, the space. Mind everywhere. Attention to detail; God's mind everywhere. We went to the Summer Mountains, bright and hot and strong and all of life and all of her mosquitoes welcomed us. We could build a little place on the lake, go there, sing and paint.